NASA delays launch of VIPER lunar ice-hunting rover to 2024

NASA’s new VIPER lunar rover must wait at least another year to search for ice on the moon’s surface.

The VIPER lunar rover will now launch no earlier than 2024 following a NASA request for more ground testing of the Griffin lunar lander. Griffin and VIPER are manufactured by the Astrobotic company.

The ice-hunting VIPER rover, the name is short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, was scheduled to land in November 2023 in the lunar south polar region to assess how much water might be available for human missions. NASA, however, has requested more time to assess Griffin’s readiness for its first mission, pushing the landing to November 2024.

“The additional testing is intended to reduce the overall risk of delivering VIPER to the Moon,” NASA said of the decision in a statement. (opens in a new tab) Monday (July 18), but provided no further details. Astrobotic did not comment on social media or in a press release.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract for Astrobotic will be awarded an additional $67.8 million to perform the additional work, bringing the total cost to $320.4 million, NASA said.

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VIPER and other CLPS missions like this are meant to test technology and search for resources on the moon before humans get there. NASA is now targeting 2025 for the first landing of its Artemis lunar program, pending the success of previous missions. Artemis 1 is expected to perform an unmanned round-the-moon test later this year, at the earliest.

VIPER’s mission was originally contracted in 2020 with a maximum value of $199.5 million, which was meant to be a fixed-cost fee covering all aspects of the launch and landing, NASA told Reuters. ‘era. Astrobotic then selected SpaceX to launch the rover through a competitive bidding process, choosing the most famous Falcon Heavy rocket for sending the “Starman” dummy into space in 2018. NASA and Astrobotic initially had planned to launch VIPER to the moon in December 2022, but delayed until 2023 to allow time for rover upgrades to extend its life and science capabilities.

Astrobotic has another CLPS mission to deliver a smaller lander, called Peregrine, to the moon no earlier than 2022. The Pennsylvania-based company announcement (opens in a new tab) Friday (July 15) tweeted that Peregrine’s collection of 24 small science payloads are successfully integrated into the lander’s flight decks.

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